This study tested the hypothesis that systemic stressors in rats activate glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1)-immunoreactive neurons in the caudal brain stem, including those that project to the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN). Neural tracer was microinjected into the PVN to retrogradely label brain stem neurons. Seven to ten days later, rats were injected with lithium chloride (LiCl; 50 mg/kg). Additional non-tracer-injected rats were treated with lipopolysaccharide (LPS; 100 microgram/kg) or CCK (100 microgram/kg) or were allowed to consume a very large meal. Rats were killed 90-120 min after drug treatment or 30 min after the meal. Brains were processed for immunocytochemical localization of c-Fos (a marker of neuronal activation), GLP-1, and, when appropriate, neural tracer. The majority of GLP-1 neurons were activated to express c-Fos after LiCl, LPS, or CCK treatment, including (in LiCl-treated rats) those projecting to the PVN. In contrast, GLP-1 neurons rarely expressed c-Fos after ingestion of a large meal, despite prominent activation of other brain stem neurons. These results suggest that GLP-1 neurons are uniquely activated in situations of interoceptive stress, and may participate in adaptive hypothalamic stress responses.